Thursday, December 03, 2009

Una mas tiempo en Sud America!!!!

Something like 4 years ago I spent quite possibly the best 4 months of my life so far cascading down the Andes via treks, ancient ruins, riots, jungle, prison, beaches, crazy cities, kidnapping, loco cities and some serious, serious fiesta. A real formative time of my life in which I met some amazing people. Since leaving those shores ( I have longed to return and, finally, here I am!

As the first week of our adventure followed tracks I have laid and written about before, this will be, initially a brief account.

Santiago and over the hills...
We landed with excitement and with anticipation met up with my mate Jonathan. He had flown down from London to spend a week with, or better to say alongside us, before a week of pampering. I say alongside us because each city unraveled a theme of him coming over to our hostels and us popping into his top-range boutique hotels. A sort of parallel travelling.

For some reason I do not have much attraction or attachment to the capital of Chile. I think this is largely because I have not given it enough chance. Only a loco night last time and a day this time. Interestingly Christina's immediate reaction was that it reminded her of home, Athens. A run-down version no doubt, but the layout of the streets, broken pavements, crazy drivers, climate, mish-mash of beautiful old homes and 1960's monstrosities, came together to make her a touch homesick (but only a touch!).

I don't know. Maybe it is that nobody I've met in the city has struck a real chord with me. Anyway, we checked out a few places and jumped on a bus across the mighty Andes.
The last time I did the road I had a hangover from hell (four sleep-depraved wild-eyed boys with dodgy taches trying to get out of Chile), but was still struck by the dramatic beauty of the route. This time I was able to take in more of the mountains that grow and grow as you climb the valleys and then criss-cross a large face to get onto the pass. It was wonderful to see the mix of excitement and slight nerves in Jonathan's face as we wheeled round corner after corner.

Once over the snowfield-strewn pass we dropped down into Argentina. The land flattens and you are eventually surrounded by small towns and vineyards and I..... fell asleep. Oh dear, a frustating flu bug was to be an inconvenience for Christina and me over the next few days, but we'll pass over that.


As soon as you cross those mountains the atmosphere of the land changes. Despite all the problems it has had, there is something attractively confident about Argentina and its people. It somehow feels reassuring and, after my last stay, familiar.
I found the city much as I had last time ( - just a lovely place. Tree lined streets full of cafes, steak restaurants and beautiful, friendly locals. We wandered around the parks, people watched on the streets and even had a rather colonial G&T on the grand porch of the Park Hyatt – Jonathan's influence. Even in the relaxed attitude of this town, South America's edge is never far away. On our first day we were greeted by loud bangs that drew us to a protest....of bankers. Nope, not a protest against bankers, but a march of bankers through the streets shouting their demands. Brilliant!
We, of course, did the obligatory wine tour which took us on an interesting diversion past oil country – I was driving and none of us were successfully navigating. Eventually we made it to a pretty vineyard, took a tour around the facilities, learned a thing or two and sat down for a delectable many hour meal. A lovely experience, which was sharpened by some fun driving home into rush hour, Argentina style. Driving in Greece and Italy earlier in the year proved great tutoring for bossing our way through lane loping, horn honking crazy local drivers.
With fever, we jumped on a super-comfortable full cama bus to one of the city of cities...

Buenos Aires
God I love this city. A wonderful combination of European culture and New World energy. A megapolis of some 13 million people. Passion abounds for, tango, steak, shopping, fiesta, football and just about everything. All you have to do is hang around for a bit and lick it all up.
That is what we did for five great days. From the grand snobby neighbourhood of Recolleta, past the more middle class Palermo, through the decaying history and youthful regeneration of San Thelmo and the general bizzy buzz of the microcentro, we wandered and wandered. Just the best way to take in a city!
As you would imagine, we devoured some seriously amazing steaks, drank malbec, peered around the eery Recoletta cemetery, wandered the charming parks and street markets and had a little “back at 8am with marginal memory loss” type fiesta. For me though nothing beats the quintessential BA experience – an afternoon sitting back in Plaza Derrego consuming blood strewn carne, lapping up vino tinto and devouring eye-turning tango.
While we were doing just that, Chris took the experience up a notch by having the guts to get up and strut some steps with one of the tango guys!
I have laid down my thoughts on the city before ( and most of my impressions remain. People we met indicated crime and politics have taken a turn for the worse, but I felt the same addictive atmosphere - energy, buzz and addictive passion.One thing that that did surprise me was how continual the issue of the Falklands Islands is. For those who do not know, the Falkland Islands (or Isles Malvines as the Argentines call them) lie in the South Atlantic not particularly near anywhere, but certainly closer to Argentina than anywhere else. They were “discovered” by various people before being settled by the Brits a while ago. The Argentinians had never settled the place, but have a strong feeling that they should be part of Argentina. A feeling that was so stoked by their early 1980's military dictatorship that they occupied them. Maggie Thatcher got all pissed off, a war ensued and the Falklands stayed British. I am no doubt biased, but as far as I can see it that should be that. A few rocks in the South Atlantic are not worth much blood. History has chucked a lot of random places under the control of random countries and unless the people of said “controlled” places want a change in sovereignty no one else should really have a say. Certainly another country should not have a right to just jump in, even more so when they have no particular historical link to the place. But....during our stay we saw a number of different protests against the British “occupation” of the islands. The largest one was right outside congress and pretty noisy. I beg that some Argentine (or anyone else for that matter) can explain to me the rational of this continued protest beyond stoked up nationalism and a touch of understandable camaraderie with the soldiers who died over the place in the early 1980's. Answers on a postcard to.....
Anyhow... saying goodbye to Jonathan and some other nice people we met, we fell out of bed early doors and crawled to a ferry over the Rio de le Plata to adventures for which I can't copy in “last time” hyperlinks. First stop Uruguay...
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